Email Header – A Complete Guide

Email Header – A Complete Guide

Despite being more than 50 years old, email is an important digital communication method that is still going strong. Even though many different types of digital marketing have emerged over the years, email marketing is still as relevant as ever. Due to its longevity, resilience, and reach, it’s highly important to ensure that every aspect of your email is functioning properly. It’s not just about the content of your emails and your overall email marketing strategy and campaigns – making sure your emails get delivered and not end up in spam is of key significance, too. And these are some of the core reasons why the topic of email header is so relevant.

This time around, we plan to talk about what an email header is, what it consists of, as well as why it’s so important in the first place. We will also show you how to view email headers in some of the most popular email services while we’re at it, so let’s dive right in:

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What Exactly Is Email Header?

Basically, an email header is a code snippet that contains different information about a specific email. It usually comprises of things like sender and recipient details, email subject, date, as well as the path of the email before it reached the inbox of the recipient. All this information is crucial for an email to get delivered successfully. You can use the email header information to see whether the entire path of the email was secure and to check if any errors occurred along the way.

What’s also characteristic about email headers is that they always get listed before the email body (which consists of the email’s contents). Some email header aspects can be accessed at the very top of the email, while the rest (custom header) needs to be opened separately.

What Are the Components of an Email Header?

Email Header Original Message

Now that we’ve briefly explained what an email header actually is, we should also mention some of the most important components that can usually be found in it. Here they are:

  • From – this field consists of the sender information (their name and email).
  • To – it contains the information about the recipient of the email, i.e. their name and email address. CC (carbon copy) and BCC (blind carbon copy) are also part of this component.
  • Date – it displays the time when the email got sent. It is usually displayed in a format of “day, dd month, yyyy, hh, mm, ss. (eg. Saturday, September 3rd, 2022 at 09:21: 53).
  • Subject – this is an email subject written by the sender, and it usually represents the summary of the entire email.
  • Return-Path – otherwise referred to as Reply-To, this field displays the address that an email reply will go to.
  • Domain Key and DKIM Signatures – Domain Key and Domain Key Identified Mail (DKIM) features help email services recognize and authenticate your email messages.
  • Message-ID – this is an ID (a letter-number combination) unique to each email message, which is also why this field is useful in helping identify every email.
  • MIME-version – standing for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, MIME is an internet email protocol that converts data such as images, audio, and video files into text. Once this data is converted, it can be sent as an attachment using SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol).
  • Content-type – this field identifies the email format (whether it’s in text or HTML format).
  • X-Spam-Status – this is a particularly useful field as it shows you whether an email is classified as spam. In addition, it can display the spam score. If the score suggests that email is considered spam in general, it will most likely get sent to the spam folder automatically.
  • Received – this field showcases the servers email had to go through prior to arriving at the inbox of the recipient. The last server is displayed at the very top, while the initial email server is at the very bottom.

What Are the Benefits of Email Headers?

So, now that we’ve covered the most important aspects of each email header, it’s time to set the record straight. What makes email headers so important, anyway?

There are multiple benefits to using email headers. Stick with us as we list some of them.

  • Email headers protect you from spam – as mentioned earlier, email headers contain a few fields meant to help email service providers (ESPs) determine which emails are genuine messages and which ones are spam. This is important as it allows ESP to inspect the email header data and decide whether the message should be directed to the recipient or not.
  • Email headers are important identification tools – since they contain important sender and recipient data (such as To, From, Date, and Subject), email headers are essential in identifying the message and its contents. All these bits of information further clarify whether the email message is legitimate and, by extension, secure.
  • Email headers can help track the email route – once an email message gets sent, it goes through a few different Mail Transfer Agents (or MTAs) prior to finally arriving in the recipient’s inbox. The email header displays the information about each MTA an email had to go through, helping recipients check where emails came from and identify potential if there were any malicious attempts along the way. There’s even the ability to learn the IP address of the sender as well.

How to View an Email Header

Once you’ve learned all about the email header’s key elements and its different benefits and uses, you must be wondering how exactly you can access the email header in the first place. Simply put, his process is mostly determined by the email service provider you are using. We will show you how you can view an entire email header using some of the most popular email service providers.

Viewing an Email Header in Gmail

To access your email header if you’re using a Gmail service, you need to open the email message whose header you wish to inspect.

Open the email message

Then, you need to click on the three-dotted menu located in the top right corner of the mail (right next to the “Reply” button).

Gmail Three-dotted Menu

Choose the option called “Show original”.

Show Original

This will open a new window containing the complete header with some info in text, and the rest in the HTML format. You will be able to view things like message ID, creation date, DKIM signature, and the list goes on.

Email Header HTML Format

From here on, you can click on the “Download Original” button if you want to take a look at each piece of information in more detail. You can also copy the email header to the clipboard and then paste this data anywhere you like (a document, an email that you plan to send to one of your coworkers, etc.).

Download Original

Viewing an Email Header in Yahoo

The process for Yahoo is similar to the Gmail service. You need to go to your Yahoo email client and click on the specific message whose header you’re curious about.

Email Header in Yahoo

You then need to click on the icon with three dots (next to the Spam button) and select “View raw message” once the dropdown menu opens.

Yahoo View Raw Message

This will trigger the opening of a new window, which will contain all the data of the email header in question.

Yahoo Email Header Data

Viewing an Email Header in Microsoft Outlook

To do this using Microsoft Outlook, click on the email in question, then hit the Actions button located in the menu in the top right corner.

Microsoft Outlook Actions

Select “View original message” from the dropdown.

Microsoft Outlook Manage Details

This will open a new window, where you’ll be able to click on the button called “Message Details”. Once you do this, you’ll be able to view some basic email header info about the message you selected.

Manage Details

Finally, copy the contents of the email header and paste them into a Word or plain text document. By doing so, you will be able to view the contents of the entire email header.

Message Details

Wrapping Things Up

Email headers play a huge role when it comes to email deliverability. Different elements of the email header can help you check the email identity, assess its legitimacy, as well as overall security in order to protect you from spam. While you can view some of the basic bits of info (such as sender and recipient info, subject, and delivery date) at the very top of each message, you do need to access your email header separately to view it in its entirety. Most of the popular email service providers like Gmail and Yahoo contain similar options for viewing full email headers. Just make sure to follow the instructions we provided above to learn how to access them and you’ll be all set.

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